When the going gets tough, the tough go traveling!

An excerpt from Adventures By Sailplane

B.S. (By Sailplane) B.C. (Before Cancer)



It was Labor Day 1991. Those three days are indelibly recorded in my heart, my mind and my first logbook, a log book which appeared from the jumbled potpourri of soaring paraphernalia  which lived in the trunk of Sam’s big blue Buick. A tow car par excellence and a roving soaring supply store.

Sam opened the trunk and fished around. Tow ropes, tools, books, papers, and magazines littered the space. “Know I’ve got one here somewhere,” he muttered. And then it emerged, a little blue book, rectangular in shape.

“Here, ” Sam gestured the book towards me. My first logbook. And in this book my first entry, written in my instructor’s slanted script, reads as follows:

The Date: September 1, 1991

The Number of the Flight: 1

Glider: Blank L13

Registration Number:  99963

Type of Tow: Aero Tow


Release   3,000 feet

Maximum  3, 000 feet

Location: Kampel

Remarks: Familiarizaton, controlds, airspeed, turns.

On the opposite page, under type of piloting time, Sam had written: Dual .5 hours. And it was signed SC Harvey 261344.

In this little blue book I would record each and every flight, each and every lesson as, bit by bit, I took to the skies. Many of my early flights were short ones. Partly because we tended to start lessons early in the day before the lift started, and partly because I didn’t know how to keep the plane aloft. And so in half hour increments, more depending upon the soaring characteristics of the day, I learned to fly.

I look over those early entries and try to recall my first feelings. Familiarization. Nothing is familiar, everything is astonishing! I am in a world of magic and awe soaring silently through the skies.

First I learn the simple basics. I learn about stick and rudder. About the need to coordinate movement between them. About ailerons and elevators. Dive brakes to control your altitude.  Open them and they disrupt the smooth flow air over the wing. Close them and I feel the adhesion of the air to the wing’s surface and our descent diminishes.

I learn about how to fly on tow. Where and how to position the plane. What to do about slack in the tow rope. How to set up a pattern and how to land.

I learn about thermals. Invisible updrafts air that keep you aloft. I learn about sink, invisible drafts  of descending air that pull you down. I learn about the delicate dependencies of being on tow, and about the exquisite freedom of flight.

In my waking hours, I never dreamed of flying and now I feel as though I live in a dream world where this is my greatest reality. Energy comes from places unseen, and in my sailplane I try to position myself and make use of these gifts of the earth. My human efforts to navigate through this alien world are fledgling ones, but I have to start somewhere. And so for that first weekend, I start a pattern which will guide the next several years of my life. Up early, to the airport to get the planes pre-flighted and hauled to the flight line, and then off into the sky for a day of soaring.

What I recall most about that long Labor Day weekend was the restoration of a sense of wonder. Perhaps it was the introduction of a new dimension to my perspective of life. Perhaps it was the thrill. I just knew that to be in the air was the most exhilarating experience I could imagine. It was the only thing in my life that made me feel alive again.


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